News

The Sinner Star Bill Pullman Promises Even the Book’s Readers Won’t Guess What’s Coming in the Finale

Crime drama’s master sleuth talks changes from the book, psychological breakthroughs, and that magnificent beard.

by | September 14, 2017 | Comments

Even if you’ve read author Petra Hammesfahr’s novel The Sinner, don’t think you know how the USA Network crime drama will end, star Bill Pullman (Independence Day) advised ahead of the event series’ finale.

Pullman plays Det. Harry Ambrose, murder suspect Cora Tannetti’s biggest ally. Cora (Jessica Biel) is more than just a suspect, however; a crowded beach full of people saw her kill a man in broad daylight. Ambrose put it together that she has been re-enacting a previous scenario that was perhaps a case of self-defense. The season finale of The Sinner airing next Wednesday will reveal the truth, and perhaps the fate of Ambrose’s marriage, which he can’t solve quite as easily.

The Sinner has been a bit of a sleeper hit this summer. It’s earned a 94% Tomatometer score with 31 reviews since it premiered August 2 and has been Certified Fresh.

Pullman spoke with Rotten Tomatoes during a stopover in Martha’s Vineyard on the way to the Toronto International Film Festival for the premiere of Battle of the Sexes, and the actor has more movies in the works for 2018.


Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Has The Sinner been a real sleeper hit of the summer for you?

Bill Pullman: My expectations and hope were that it would find a certain audience. Then people might watch it afterwards or whatever, but it’s done much better than I thought. My representatives were saying, “Well, it premiered very well, but we’re used to declining numbers or they might plateau.” Everybody was managing expectations and I thought, “They’re probably optimistic — even so I have to be prepared.” But, it has climbed every week. I could tell by the television agent at ICM how excited he was to call me the day after each screening. I could see all those numbers meant a lot to him.

RT: Have you been aware of the good reviews too?

Pullman: You know, I try to duck out of reading those until it’s all over. I do go back and read some when it’s old news. People have been telling me there are some supporters out there for it.

RT: You’ve had a beard in your last few roles. Is this your new look?

Pullman: I just shaved it! I had to say goodbye to the beard because I’m doing two parts and neither of them have a beard. I’m playing Nelson Rockefeller in Cheney, and he never had a beard. Then I’m doing a sequel to The Equalizer, and I didn’t have a beard in the first one.

RT: Why was it the right look for Ambrose in The Sinner?

Pullman: A couple of years ago, this Norwegian theater director had the idea that I should come to Norway and do Othello. I had a beard for that. When I came back, we were doing the sequel to Independence Day and when Roland Emmerich saw pictures of me in my wardrobe with this beard, because I hadn’t shaved it off yet, he said, “I like the beard. We’ll keep it for Whitmore.” Every movie it seemed like everybody said, “Let’s keep the beard. I like the beard.” I was ready for anything with [The Sinner creator] Derek Simonds and Tony Campos who was directing. They saw pictures of me with the beard and said, “You know, this really works for Ambrose.” It was a good run with the beard for two years, about five movies.

RT: If people have read the book, does the finale still have some surprises in store for them?

Pullman: Yes, there are still things they get to be surprised by. The weight and value of things are different too. There are things that can take a long time in the book that don’t so much in our story and vice versa. For one thing, the Ambrose character is not nearly as developed in the book as he is in the show. What he goes through in the last phase is more invented by Derek.

RT: Ambrose was right about the psychological repetition of the stab wounds. Has he gotten too close with Cora by the end?

Pullman: I think it’s the peculiarity of the human mind they’re trying to account for. It’s also a metaphor to repetition patterns that people get into, in ways they don’t recognize consciously. In both characters, in Ambrose and her, what patterns of behavior are we unconscious of? What caused it or what feeds it? Either unconsciously or semi-consciously, I think Ambrose is half aware. It’s more of a fugue state for her, almost pulling back the curtain on a lot of things for her. He’s at least more aware of behavior, at least dimly aware.

RT: Is there a resolution to his marriage?

Pullman: Yeah. I don’t think it’s something you’ll be prepared for. He can’t really sustain it without going through a lot more, at this point in the story. He’s not capable of it. He does everything he can to sustain it but it really is harder than he thought. In a way, his relationship [with Cora] becomes more intimate. There’s a lot more levels of intimacy, not sexuality, but intimacy that he probably hasn’t had for a while with anybody.

RT: Was it heartbreaking to film the scene where he’s watering his trees?

Pullman: It was so strange that we had the good fortune that it rained that day. There was a point where the first AD, the director, and Derek said, “Are we going to commit to rain? What if it stops raining and we have to keep shooting coverage?” I wasn’t even thinking about [the rain] too much except for the fact that everybody was coming up to me going, “Are you OK?” because I was so soaked. I didn’t want to be [distracted] with keeping warm or drying off or anything. Just keep going. I think the rain added this level of urgency to it all.

RT: Who do you play in Battle of the Sexes?

Pullman: I get to play Jack Kramer, who is the obstacle to Billie Jean King. He was a true-life guy who was quite a charismatic guy, good tennis player. He’s very important to American tennis. He led the strike at Wimbledon in ’73, when they allowed players to negotiate their own salaries individually for the first time and that made professional tennis playing possible so people could have careers and raise families. But the bridge too far was to get along with Billie Jean King. He believes that women are not as capable as men in playing tennis and that they’re not as resilient. They don’t have the strength and the speed. That makes him a male chauvinist pig, so I’m a good kind of antagonist.

RT: Actors always say you can’t judge your character, but when someone in real life had views like that does it still apply?

Pullman: When they first talked to me about it, I said, “You know, I don’t want to be the guy that’s just stuck in his own age, as a female empowerment movie where we all have the brilliance of our own modern day perspective and everybody else looks like they’re regressive personalities or something.” They were very interested in making it nuanced. I think honestly saying, “This guy is not an overbearing male chauvinist. He was part of a culture that believed this. That doesn’t mean he’s 100-percent bad guy.” All the characters are kind of compromised, but they’re still very human and you don’t ever disengage or give up on them as people.

RT: Do you play tennis in the movie?

Pullman: No, I don’t have to play tennis in the movie. I’ve done other things where I’ve had to play tennis.

RT: For those who don’t know the historical connection, how was Nelson Rockefeller involved with Dick Cheney?

Pullman: I don’t know if you’re familiar with that whole idea of the Rockefeller Republicans. In the ’60s and early ’70s, the Republican party had a wing that was pro-environment and interested in setting up the EPA, which they did; pro– education and setting up a huge state system, which was largely Republican driven; then they started the NEA for the arts. At a certain point, there was a faction in the party that wanted to go hard right and scorched earth, no compromises with the other party. You’ll see in the movie how it turns out.

RT: Does your character fill the same role in The Equalizer 2?

Pullman: I didn’t know where my character was going. I’m not sure if it’s even resolved. Maybe there’ll be a third one and it’ll go in yet another direction.


The Sinner finale airs Wednesday, September 20 at 10 p.m. on USA.

[youtube_video url=

Tag Cloud

NYCC romantic comedy Emmys universal monsters Kids & Family werewolf anthology crime thriller FX boxoffice Ellie Kemper Starz Spectrum Originals Shudder Awards Tour Arrowverse Podcast SXSW dragons WGN dogs Year in Review Valentine's Day Acorn TV period drama Star Wars FXX Trophy Talk Music Pride Month casting Warner Bros. DC Universe canceled Sundance E! WarnerMedia 2017 OneApp cartoon Marvel Television CNN renewed TV shows Pixar Epix travel historical drama social media festivals Reality Competition E3 Countdown Character Guide docudrama ESPN Emmy Nominations El Rey VICE Spike singing competition talk show ratings ABC Family TruTV franchise Black Mirror batman mutant GIFs ITV rotten movies we love Crackle Netflix Lucasfilm Reality First Reviews Women's History Month Certified Fresh American Society of Cinematographers Elton John harry potter New York Comic Con RT21 Family book crime drama Video Games Teen TCA Winter 2020 Extras disaster Dark Horse Comics Disney Channel Pirates National Geographic TBS PBS kids Nominations what to watch dc TCM cops video Lifetime mockumentary TV Superheroe Winter TV Mindy Kaling Cosplay Ovation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Brie Larson CW Seed supernatural blockbuster Quiz A&E CBS All Access witnail sag awards Christmas psychological thriller Premiere Dates documentary Bravo HBO Tumblr movie miniseries independent TV renewals scary movies Rock dceu Animation anime game show CBS aliens Comics on TV breaking bad Interview USA Network Spring TV DC Comics Toys 2015 Mary Poppins Returns Rom-Com Opinion romance CMT Travel Channel IFC 007 revenge 21st Century Fox FX on Hulu Amazon Prime Video Turner adventure Grammys Writers Guild of America Food Network Creative Arts Emmys green book movies indie Apple Avengers discovery Showtime USA TLC Universal based on movie Marvel Classic Film MTV Crunchyroll Fox News Binge Guide Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Netflix Christmas movies zero dark thirty The Arrangement Mary poppins Hallmark Christmas movies Syfy facebook sports comics Superheroes comiccon screenings diversity cancelled Election Holidays Rocketman game of thrones BBC Action Ghostbusters Discovery Channel Britbox canceled TV shows thriller Turner Classic Movies natural history Apple TV Plus Masterpiece Sneak Peek animated TV Land YouTube Premium justice league Pop TV screen actors guild DC streaming service MSNBC slashers teaser transformers Star Trek Pop Song of Ice and Fire serial killer Polls and Games Musical The Witch Sundance TV Hulu Winners Esquire Infographic Fall TV Black History Month Peacock Captain marvel Television Academy Disney award winner San Diego Comic-Con Apple TV+ Comedy Mudbound Amazon Prime reboot Summer 2016 cults YA space blaxploitation Tarantino Amazon sequel Stephen King FOX X-Men Thanksgiving Sci-Fi Sundance Now directors The Purge Martial Arts Pet Sematary politics strong female leads VH1 spanish language Anna Paquin Western Country Box Office DirecTV 71st Emmy Awards NBC Comic Book BET biography cars technology Hallmark Drama joker Photos nature AMC Disney+ Disney Plus Nat Geo Columbia Pictures DGA tv talk Horror latino A24 SDCC streaming Chernobyl Cannes political drama Marathons Freeform south america hist robots cancelled TV series History Shondaland Paramount Network 2018 Comedy Central vampires Walt Disney Pictures Set visit 20th Century Fox television 24 frames spider-man ghosts SundanceTV LGBTQ The Walking Dead toy story halloween TCA IFC Films Tubi BBC America psycho Nickelodeon richard e. Grant RT History TCA 2017 Trailer 45 PaleyFest GoT cats series crossover war Holiday Rocky zombie Best and Worst TNT Cartoon Network quibi reviews 2019 Endgame ABC hispanic First Look medical drama Paramount President LGBT Schedule Amazon Studios cancelled TV shows theme song Tomatazos APB name the review binge Adult Swim elevated horror The CW Biopics MCU zombies spinoff Baby Yoda GLAAD golden globes HBO Max cooking 2020 children's TV Oscars crime Lifetime Christmas movies dramedy Logo Film jamie lee curtis Watching Series police drama Calendar doctor who christmas movies science fiction spy thriller composers TIFF foreign Trivia OWN free movies Super Bowl Marvel Studios Academy Awards Heroines adaptation unscripted YouTube Red YouTube Musicals sitcom versus Film Festival cancelled television cinemax stand-up comedy Sony Pictures Vudu Mystery true crime Funimation spain Disney streaming service Awards finale comic Disney Plus Red Carpet See It Skip It Fantasy Mary Tyler Moore Lionsgate